Girl and a cat lying on the couch.

Since the dawn of our existence, we’ve needed companions; both of the human kind, but also in the form of other species. It might seem wholly unnatural for humans – who are arguably at the very top of the food chain – to take in and care for another animal with little or no reward for doing so. Yet, defying all logic, it’s something we’ve done era after era.

While there is a broad array of animals we’ve domesticated and dubbed “pets,” there’s one that we’re utterly obsessed with like no other. You only have to take a quick look at your Facebook timeline, Instagram or, of course, whatever is trending on YouTube, to see that cats are the current reigning king of pets. The internet generation is completely besotted with these creatures, but they could be helping us more than we know. In fact, there’s quite a lot of evidence to suggest that our feline friends actually enhance our lives.

Caring for another being gives you routine

If you’re lucky enough to have a cat already, you’ll know two things to be true. First of all, these animals are simply adorable – they’re loving, beautiful creatures. Secondly, they’re a whole lot of work. You need to buy pet insurance, ensure that they have a reputable vet, feed them, play with them, socialize them and generally do all you can to make sure that they are healthy, content creatures. It might sound like a formidable list of chores, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

cat on woman shoulder

“Everything’s going to be OK, human.”

You see, caring for another being is one of the most mentally healthy things you can do for yourself.  In fact, one particular 2009 study found that looking after an animal can actually help lower your daily stress levels. Many studies have suggested that the stronger the bond between you and your pet is, the better the effect will be on your mental wellness. In reality, having to get up and feed your feline on a Sunday morning might feel like a dull task, but it gives you a sense of routine and purpose. That responsibility of looking after an animal that is solely dependent on you is at once terrifying and fulfilling.

Cats give you “meaningful social support”

From the moment that we’re self-aware, we’re continually reaching for a sense of belonging in our lives; something that confirms we’re on the right track, with the right people and doing the right things. That’s where social support comes into the equation. Social support means your immediate circle of friends, family, and acquaintances – the people who make you, you. It’s a term that’s thrown around a whole lot in psychology; the main theory is that having a proper support system around you contributes to your general well-being and happiness.

woman plays with cat

“Yes, Karen, that is indeed my nose.”

So, what has this got to do with cats? Well, it may surprise you to learn that our cute little kittens could actually act as a form of social support as well. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggested that pet owners have a better level of well-being when their pets met their “social needs.” Further still, there was no competition between the social support pets gave and that humans gave. In simple terms, having a pet did not turn people into isolated animal lovers – instead, it helped them in all areas of their social life. That blows the crazy cat lady stereotype way out of the water – having a cat may actually help you perfect your social skills.

You really have to earn their trust and love

As nice as dogs are, they will ultimately give their unbridled affection to anyone who feeds them on a regular basis. While that may seem like an easy option (after all, who wouldn’t want unconditional love?), there’s something more satisfying about having to earn that right. Cats are much more picky about who they warm to – meaning that you have to work hard to prove your worth to them. It’s not merely about feeding them and looking after their health; it’s about building a genuine relationship with them over time. While it may be difficult to begin with, once you get that first purr of recognition, it’s the greatest possible feeling.

cat plays in box

“Did somebody say ‘treat’?”

In short, if you are pondering whether getting a kitty is right for you and you have the means (and time) to care for an animal, there are truly endless benefits to doing so. These little felines are so much more than merely the hilarious stars of viral videos – they are true companions, and there are few things in this world greater than true companionship.